The fourth Baltic Pride in Vilnius this year coincided with the 10th anniversary of the Baltic Pride in the Baltic States. Since 2010, when the LGBT community march was first organized in Vilnius, the event has changed beyond recognition. Why and how activists came up with the idea of organizing an LGBT community march every year in a different capital of the three Baltic States? How has this event grown to be the largest march in Lithuania? Vladimir Simonko, Executive Director of the National LGBT rights organization LGL, tells about the incredible transformation of the Baltic Pride march over the past decade.
– How did the Baltic Pride idea was born?
– Baltic Pride is an expression of cooperation between the three Baltic LGBT human rights organizations. One of the main initiators of Baltic Pride was the Latvian LGBT organization Mozaika. This organization has already had a hard time organizing an LGBT march in Riga. Latvians have faced a huge opposition and have fought in courts for the right to have peaceful assemblies. October 2008 in Sigulda we met partners from Latvia and Estonia. Then the LGBT partners in the Baltic States decided to organize the Baltic Pride under principle of rotation. In 2009, for the first time at the Baltic Pride in Riga, representatives of the Baltic States appeared carrying a 30-meter rainbow flag. It was produced for the 2007 Rainbow Days Festival in Vilnius, but at a time, when Vilnius City Mayor was Juozas Imbrasas, the municipality did not give permission to carry it.
– Could you remember the first Baltic Pride in Vilnius?
– I remember the procession in Vilnius in 2010 as a unique event that shook the whole Lithuania. Until this day I meet people who remember the atmosphere of the first Baltic Pride march. This unique form of cooperation between Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia reminds me a bit of the Baltic Way. We are delighted that we continue our successful cooperation. We have come a long and difficult way since 2010, but the achievements are obvious: Baltic Pride in Vilnius has grown from 350 people on Upės Street to 10,000 on Gediminas Avenue.
– Could you tell us more about the fight of the right to march on Gediminas Avenue?
– The right to organize a procession for the LGBT community has led to two court cases. For the first time in 2010, we litigated with the Vilnius City Municipality, headed by Vilius Navickas, regarding the right to hold a march. For the second time in 2013, we fought in court against Vilnius City Municipality, led by Artūras Zuokas, for the right to march on Gediminas Avenue. The municipality has been unsuccessful in all instances and had to pay the costs.
This situation demonstrates that human rights are not a given as a present. Human rights have to be defended every time. So you always have to be ready to defend your right to be yourself.
– How did the Baltic Pride become the most attractive march in Lithuania?
– Vilnius and the whole Lithuania can be proud of the LGBT community event organized by a non-governmental organization. This year we reached a record number of participants: 10,000 people from Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and all corners of the world took part in the March. I am confident that in the long run, our historians will remember this event as one of the most unique events that had no place for hatred. It’s a big celebration for all of us.
– How do you rate the Baltic Pride March in Vilnius?
– Two months after the march, I can say that I am proud to have created a festival in Vilnius that has never happened before. On that day, we were happy that we were all equal, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity. This feeling has accompanied me to this day. This day gave me hope that changes could come soon.
It is unfortunate that our politicians are far behind the progressive section of society and, for reasons I do not yet understand, they take as a sign of good tone ignoring minority rights. I do not know how many similar events have to take place so that they finally realize that we are also Lithuanian citizens, taxpayers and their constituents with specific expectations. This year, 10,000 Baltic Pride participants said loud and clear: LGBT people living together are family.
Baltic Pride will return to Vilnius in 2022 and I hope that the new Seimas will no longer question whether to support the LGBT community and join the march. I would like to wish our elected politicians to be modern Europeans. It is time not only to seize the opportunities offered by the European Union, but also to uphold its values, including respect for human rights.
– What’s the secret of the Baltic Pride’s success?
– Although no laws have been passed to facilitate the situation of LGBT people in Lithuania since 2010, the success of Baltic Pride shows that there is something to celebrate. This event is already known throughout Europe.
This year, for the first time in the history of the Baltic Pride, we received the support of business representatives. This shows that the Baltic Pride is beginning to resemble prides in Western Europe. I am delighted that the event has been sponsored by companies that have signed the Diversity Charter, such as Swedbank, Barclays, Moody’s and Telia. The main news portal 15min.lt also expressed its support.
While this has been a courageous decision by business people, the solidarity of business with certain communities also has a positive impact on the minority workers in these companies.
– What was special about this year’s Baltic Pride festival in Vilnius?
– We have given the city a great festival that will hopefully grow in the future. I would like to highlight the Pride Park event that took place after the Baltic Pride march, which brought together residents and guests of Vilnius to celebrate equality. I will never forget the happy faces of the participants.
I wonder if it is time to think about a similar celebration in other Lithuanian cities. Vilnius is a kind of bubble of tolerance. Perhaps it is time to ensure the visibility of the LGBT community in other Lithuanian cities as well? Such a celebration requires initiative and courage from the local community. Unknown is frightening, but we have a lot of valuable experience from the 2010 march in Vilnius to share.
Klaipeda is already considering an event for the LGBT community. Perhaps it is time for other cities to consider such an option? We are ready to share our experience in this field.
– How Baltic Pride will change in the future?
– I hope that the city of Vilnius will finally acknowledge that this holiday attracts many tourists, famous guests and contributes to the promotion of tolerance in our society. I hope the city municipality will pay more attention to this festival in the future. I am not only talking about financial support but also about political support. Western European capitals such as Berlin, Paris and Madrid are actively supporting LGBT community events that contribute to a positive urban image. It is a kind of business card of the city that measures the level of tolerance across the country.
So I hope that the Baltic Pride in 2022 will be able to cooperate more closely with Vilnius City Municipality. You can start preparing for the upcoming Baltic Pride March now. In the meantime, I invite everyone to come to support local LGBT communities at the Baltic Pride in Tallinn, and in 2021 in Riga.
The only challenge facing us in Vilnius in 2022 is to organize an even better event than this year. Maybe it is time to host EuroPride, the main European LGBT march in Vilnius? This event would help to attract even more supporters of equality to Vilnius.
Baltic Pride in Vilnius: From Challenges to Celebration of Diversity
First Baltic Pride march in 2010: 350 marchers were outnumbered by 2000 counter-protesters.
Baltic Pride 2010 march took place in a remote area of Vilnius. The participants were caged behind security fences so that police could protect them from hostility of thousands counter-protesters.
© C. Meacham pictures
© M. Narbutaitė pictures
Despite the attempts to block the March taking place in the central street of Vilnius, the Baltic Pride March for Equality took place in Gediminas avenue. LGL succeeded in courts and received a permission on the eve of March. The police ensured security of 1000 participants, arresting 30 counter-protesters.
© A. Didžgalvis pictures
Baltic Pride 2016 took place in the central avenue of Vilnius. The march was attended by 3,000 people who were opposed by 50 counter-protesters. They looked sad and lonely.
© A. Didžgalvis pictures
On June 8, the Baltic Pride parade in Vilnius attracted a record number of participants: 10,000 people marched from Bernardine Garden to Lukiškės Square. The official motto of this year’s parade was “We are a Family”.
© A. Didžgalvis pictures
The article was prepared in the framework of the project “Change in Business, Public Sector and Society – New Standards for Reduction of Discrimination”. The project is implemented by the Office of the Equal Opportunities Ombudsperson, partners are the public institution Human Rights Monitoring Institute and LGL Association.